Tag Archives: Charlie Tahan

The Harvest (2013)

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For thrills, chills, and scintillating melodrama, look no farther than “The Harvest,” John McNaughton’s most recent venture into the horror genre; but don’t use the film to inform the uninitiated about the perks of homeschooling your kids.

Maryann (Natasha Calis)  just wants a friend, and release from the doldrums of being the new kid in a new town. Katherine (Samantha Morton,) the emasculating and controlling homeschool mom of a very sick boy, has other ideas. When Maryann meets Andy (Charlie Tahan,) a wheelchair bound preteen, it’s affable curiosity and burgeoning friendship at first sight, but Katherine is totally hellbent on keeping Andy as far away from Maryann as possible.

She keeps Andy and his dad Richard (Michael Shannon) in constant fear of her insane mood swings (it’s safe to say that Richard, like “American Beauty”‘s Lester Burnham, has had his balls stored in a mason jar under the sink since the early years of their marriage,) overprotects Andy to the point of ridiculousness, and keeps Andy on a variety of numbing medications that seem to increase exponentially by the minute. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want him to get better- but that’s crazy, right?

When Maryann quite accidentally does a bit of probing into the matter, she discovers a horrible secret that Richard and Katherine would die to keep buried far, far away with their other familial skeletons. Maryann wants to help Andy, but what can a kid do when her live-in grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles) are so obtuse about her shocking discovery? One thing’s for sure- Andy’s not breaking free of his domineering mum without an explosive confrontation.

“The Harvest” is like a soap opera you can’t stop watching for fear that, if you turn away, you’ll miss one of the insane plot twists. There’s probably more constructive things you should be doing, but something keeps you anchored to the TV screen, and for some reason, you don’t even resent the power it seems to have over you. The realism is questionable, the unanswered questions are daunting, the confrontations are over-the-top but the film has the effect of reading a really good paperback novel- you’ve just got to turn that next page.

Although “The Harvest” can be outrageous, the performances solidly support a sensational premise, including a thoroughly committed acting job by Samantha Morton. Morton flips by the turn of a dime from a annoying overbearing ice queen with a vast array of outfits apparently picked from the Mormon Housewife section of the JC Penny to a genuinely malevolent force. She’s so outrageously cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs that you almost laugh, but you genuinely fear for those orbiting her one-woman circus act.

The whole cast- Michael Shannon as a stereotypical deballed hubby with a perpetual hangdog posture, Natasha Callis as a girl probably too smart for her own good, Charlie Tahan as a put-upon youngster- are so devoted to making their roles work that they manage to gloss over the more soap-opera-ish moments. There are certainly some logistical infallacies (unless Maryann is the kind of child who habitually tells tall tales, which I suspect she isn’t, wouldn’t her well-meaning grandparents put some credence to her wild story- at least give her a chance?) and the ending raises more questions than it answers, but the film itself is luridly compelling.

It held a strange power over me, maybe partially because it shows how quickly good intentions- anything for the one you love’s sake- can slip-slide into focused evil. I haven’t seen hardly anything with Samantha Morton (nothing memorable I can remember off the top of my head) but I think she was outstanding in this role. Her devotion comes with a body count, and her husband must decide how long being her bitch serves his best interests. Shit will go down, and we kind of love that about it.

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Love is Strange (2014)

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“Love is Strange” is a solid little film whose finale nevertheless left this viewer feeling somewhat half-satisfied, puzzling on whether that was ‘it.’ To be fair, the good far outweighs the bad for this project- writer-director Ira Sachs infuses “Love is Strange” with an honesty and a subtlety that is sometimes frustrating, sometimes heartrending, and the leads perform admirably in true-to-life, non-showy roles.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are an aging gay couple who have just tied the knot. Good for them, bad for George’s career- the Catholic School where George teaches music is displeased that George’s sexuality is now made known to everyone by his getting married. George is a believer and a well-loved teacher, but what does that matter to the fat cats who run the show, and are overeager to push George back in the closet?

Nothing it seems. Worse, now Ben and George can’t keep up payments on their apartment, so they are shuffled off to live with friends and family. Absent-minded artist Ben goes to live with a distant relative where he is treated like an unwanted stray and an annoyance in their cramped apartment. George, on the other hand, stays with a gay cop couple who party long and hard day in and day out, befuddling the old man.

“Love is Strange” is a quiet film with lots of static long takes, and it seems ‘real’ to a startling extent. Ben and George’s relationship is very sweet and passionate without being graphically sexual. The movie also has some interesting things to say about fidelity and ageism, and the value (or lack thereof, in some cases) of family.

I would have liked a bit more resolution to the plotline concerning the boy (Charlie Tahan) stealing the French books (though the father (Darren E. Burrows’) hysterical and accusing reaction is priceless.) The lovely Marisa Tomei plays the role of the boy’s mother and the wife of the relative taking Ben in, and the whole cast does a uniformly great job, including the young boy actor as the moody teen who doesn’t take to Ben’s presence famously.

The more I think about the ending, weirdly, the more ‘right’ it seems- the tenderness and the grit and the bittersweet melancholy of it- and my initial miffed reaction to the speediness of the wrap-up has more to do with my own personal response than anything to do with the quality of the writing or directing. That said, I think there could have been a little more added to the conclusion.

I don’t think “Love is Strange” is one of the best gay-themed movies of all time, but it certainly holds it’s own in a subgenre whose movies range from fantastically good to woefully poor. Lithgow and Molina portray aging New Yorkers equipped with a tenderness and a good humor that spits back in the face of mounting obstacles. If you’ve never heard about it until now, you’re not the only one; “Love is Strange” was miserably under talked about, and it’s certainly ‘strange’ that it hasn’t gotten more attention than it received.

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